In my previous post on Sevilla, I called the southern region of Andalucía, Spain’s beating heart. Another great example of this statement is the historic city of Granada. This thriving city, sitting at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, was once the grandest city in Spain. Conquered by the Moors in 711 and reconquered by Christians in the 15th century, the remnants of Granada’s Moorish past can easily be experienced even today, at the Alhambra. This city has so much to do and see that one day in Granada may not be enough. However, if don’t have the luxury of spending more than one day in Granada then this itinerary covers all the major sites and highlights the city has to offer along with lots of tips to make the most out of your trip.
The Granada Card
To buy it or not? I bought it and here is why.
It was high season when I visited Granada and I could not get a ticket to the Alhambra at the official site, even though I looked for tickets almost 2 months out. I had two options when this happened. Either pay around €40 for a private tour of the Alhambra or buy the Granada card for €40. At this price, the card includes the Alhambra including Palacios Nazaries + entry tickets to so many other attractions in Granada + public transport.
Keep in mind the ticket to the Alhambra itself is €14. Had I been able to get a ticket directly to the Alhambra, I may have not bought the Granada card. But, since I could not, this was the next best option. Another huge advantage of the Granada card is that you get to skip the lines, even at the other (non-Alhambra) attractions in Granada. My advice would be to look at the attractions the card covers and see if it’s worth it for you.
Where to collect the card
- Town Hall in Plaza del Carmen (Mondays – Saturdays: 09:30 – 19:00; Sundays: 9:30 – 14:00; Closed: bank holidays)
- Kiosk CHALO in Plaza Nueva (Mondays – Saturdays: 08:00 – 21:00; Sundays: 8:00 – 15:00; Closed: bank holidays)
Granada Highlights in a Day
The last and greatest Moorish Palace and a World Heritage Site. The Alhambra is one of Spain’s top tourist attractions and has 4 main things to see within it’s premises. I have listed out these 4 attractions below. When you buy a ticket make sure you have entry to Palacios Nazaries. This is the top attraction out of the four but tickets are both timed and limited. You can stay on until close once inside Palacios Nazaries but you have to be there at the time window designated on your ticket to gain entry. The attractions below are listed in order to minimize walking time within the complex. The Alhambra has 2 entrances, however the best entrance for the order listed below is the Justice Gate entrance.
Charles V’s Palace
Conquerors usually assert their dominance by building over their foe’s property! But, thankfully this one did not destroy his enemy’s palace to build his own. Instead, Charles V built this Renaissance palace for official functions and used Palacios Nazaries as his royal residence. This circle within a square build was designed by a pupil of the Italian master Michelangelo. Today this palace also contains the Alhambra Museum which houses some specimens of fine Moorish art.
This fort is the oldest part of the Alhambra, dating back to the 13th century. Back in its heyday, this fort defended the almost 2000 inhabitants living within the Alhambra. The complex is quite ruined so you may have to use your imagination to see what it may have looked like when it was operational. The best part about the Alcazaba today, in my opinion, is the sweeping views it offers over the Albayzín and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
I have studied Western art and art history since I was 11 years old but this was the first time I saw Islamic art. To say my jaw dropped to the floor would be a great understatement! Palacios Nazaries has you spellbound and wanting more. Each and every room gets better than the last!
You will visit room after room, decorated top to bottom with stucco, carved and ornate wooden ceilings, colorful ceramic tiles in mesmerizing patterns and plaster molded walls. Fountains and ponds adds to the tranquility of the palace. Stop at each of the rooms listed below.
- Courtyard of the Myrtles – courtyard where the women’s apartments looked over
- Ship Room
- Grand Hall of the Ambassadors – the largest room of the palace and where the sultan’s throne room was
- Courtyard of the Lions – home to the famous fountain with 12 marble lions in the center
- Hall of the Abencerrajes – the sultan’s living room; look up at the stunning ceiling
- Hall of the Kings – depicts 10 of the 22 sultans that lived in the Alhambra; a rare glimpse of figures that is otherwise devoid in Islamic art
- Hall of Two Sisters
- Washington Irving Room
- Hallway with a View
- The Partal Gardens
- This is the one place you really need to be guided to fully appreciate what you are seeing. I cannot recommend an audio guide or a guide book enough. Better yet if you have a private guide who can explain things
- Since the ticket is timed, there are usually more people at the start of each 30 minute window. If you are not at the front of the line, then wait a bit and let the crowd go in. You should be fine as long as you enter within your 30 minute window
Generalife was the sultan’s summer palace and orchards. Walking through these sprawling gardens, water fountains and vegetation is a great to end your Alhambra visit. Don’t rush and take it all in! The views are amazing and will take you back to what life was like back in the day.
How to get to the Alhambra
You can walk, take a bus, taxi or use your own vehicle from the city center to get to the Alhambra. If you are taking a bus, it’s bus #30 or #32 from Plaza de Isabel La Catolica.
Make sure Palacios Nazaries is included no matter what you opt for.
- HERE is the link to the official site
- HERE is the link to the Granada card – the 24 hour card only gives you access to a night time visit to Palacios Nazaries. I got the 48 hour one
- There are also lots of private guided tours that come with a ticket
The cathedral of Granada is the second-largest church in all of Spain (after Sevilla’s) and one of the two renaissance churches in Spain (the other one in is Cordoba). The cathedral was built over a mosque after the Reconquista and is characterized by the three triumphal arches in its exterior.
The Royal Chapel was constructed between in the 16th century and is the burial place of the Spanish monarchs, Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand. These two “Catholic Monarchs” as they are more famously known were pivotal in the Reconquista of Spain. Also housed in the chapel are paintings that belonged to Queen Isabella. Definitely worth a visit!
The Albaicín, or Albayzín as it is historically known is a World Heritage Site. Albayzín is another great example of Spain’s Moorish past. I wish I had more time to spend exploring these narrow and winding streets. I definitely want to go back to Granada to spend more time in this area.
You can walk (a little uphill) or take bus #31 from Plaza Nueva to get to the Albayzín from the Granada city center.
Plaza de San Nicolas
Plaza de San Nicolas is perhaps the best known location within the Albayzín for it’s stunning view of the Alhambra with the mountains the backdrop. The best time to come up here is during sunset when the skies cast pink and purple shadows and hues on the Alhambra.
Basilica de San Juan de Dios
This church, built in the 18th century is dedicated to John of God, the patron saint of Granada. The interior and alter of this church is highly decorated in gold and absolutely breathtaking!
Monasterio de San Jerónimo
The monastery was founded by the Catholic Monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, outside the city of Granada and later relocated to its current location. The altarpiece of the main church is exquisite and well worth a visit.
The Alcaiceria was originally the old Moorish silk market. The version you see today is from the 1800s as the older version was burned down during a fire. However, walking through the narrow streets of the Alcaiceria today, you can still picture what this market was like back in the day.
Tips for Planning Your Day in Granada
- The most important thing you will have to consider when planning your one day in Granada is your entry time to the Palacios Nazaries. You do not want to miss your 30 minute time window, so you have to be very careful about planning your day around this
- Don’t underestimate the time you will spend at the Alhambra. There is so much to see and trust me, you want to leave time to soak it all in
- Arrive in Granada early in the day if possible
- Use public transport to save time; the bus service is well organized and is €1.40 for a single ticket or free with the Granada card; HERE is the link to the schedule
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